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Corporate Talent & Inclusion

How DEI-focused technology can foster diversity, break bias, and support inclusion

Kathleen Killin  Global Legal / Platform Use Case Leads / Thomson Reuters

· 5 minute read

Kathleen Killin  Global Legal / Platform Use Case Leads / Thomson Reuters

· 5 minute read

There are technology solutions available to employers today that allow them to improve the diversity and inclusion of their workplace while mitigating existing biases

Technology solutions that allow employers to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the workplace are becoming more available every day. In fact, more than 100 solutions are in the market currently, and the DEI technology market is estimated to be worth more than $100 million.

To understand how technology is evolving and can be used to improve diversity, mitigate bias, and reinforce inclusion, it’s important to understand the landscape of the biases at play within organizations. The most common ones include affinity bias, the unconscious tendency to prefer those who are like us; confirmation bias, which is the inclination to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories; the halo/horns effect, which is a cognitive bias that causes a person’s impression of someone to be overly influenced by a single personality quality, physical trait, or experience; conformity bias, which occurs when our deep-seated need to belong causes us to adapt or alter our behaviors to better match that of the group; and attribution bias, which plays out when judgements and assumptions are made about why people behave in certain ways.

Although it’s hard to pinpoint which biases are at play in any given situation, the current diversity data demonstrates how certain preferences show up. For example, just 8% of managers and 3.8% of CEOs are Black, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Within the legal industry, Asian Americans have the highest attrition rates and lowest ratio of partners-to-associates among all ethnic or racial groups. Finally, one-fifth of LGBTQ Americans have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when applying for jobs.

There are two main areas within a company or organization in which DEI technology can help to mitigate bias and improve diversity. The first is through people; currently, 43% of DEI technologies are used for the purpose of talent acquisition, including candidate sourcing and selection. Indeed, technology is being used to reduce instances of bias and make more equitable decisions throughout the hiring process.

The second main area involves organization culture. For example, the online training space includes resources that range from breaking biases to building awareness of the unique experiences specific underrepresented individuals face in the workplace. In addition, enterprise collaboration solutions — such as Zoom and Slack — can assist employers in increasing opportunities for colleagues with disabilities and increase access to flexible work arrangements for all employees.

More specifically, across the employee lifecycle, there are four categories of DEI technologies targeted specifically toward candidates and employees. Talent acquisition, which makes up 43% of all DEI-related tech solutions, focused on candidate selection and candidate sourcing. Career advancement and development, which is about 20% of all solutions and is comprised of leadership & development, mentorship & career management, performance management, and high-potential selection. Engagement and retention, which makes up a little more than 10% of all solutions, targets employee experience, voice, and communication. Analytics, which is about one-quarter of all of the solutions, centers on DEI analysis and monitoring, pay equity analysis, employee resource groups, and making the DEI business case.

Technology is not a panacea

Even within technology, however, it’s important to remember that some biases can creep in. For example, it is common within coding and technology development market segments to use biased language, such as “man hours” and master/slave terms, which are used in computing as a reference to situations where one process or entity controls another. Additional risks of using technology processes and terminology of which employers should be aware include:

      • implementing technology that itself may have biases due to the data sets on which the algorithms are trained or the lack of diversity among the technologists that created it;
      • creating a potential legal risk in that if problems are identified and the organization fails to act;
      • enabling the perception that the technology will solve bias problems, not that people are responsible for solving them;
      • implementing technology or processes that are disconnected from other people, processes, or technology; and
      • enabling employee perceptions of big-brother monitoring or an over-focus on
        “political correctness” or “reverse-discrimination.”

Where to start

It can be daunting to keep up with technology in the DEI space. For those organizations that may be just getting started, begin at the recruitment phase to analyze which technology could remove bias in candidate selection and sourcing. Next, move on to how micro- or bite-size e-learning and online training can support the adoption of new behaviors.

Then, focus on your data to ensure you automate progress and establish easy-to-use ways to keep up with how representation of diverse employees is changing at each level of your organization. Finally, determine what technology is useful to support employee engagement and retention going forward.

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